breaking news

WATCH LIVE: Tex McIver murder trial

Get Schooled

Your source to discuss and learn about education in Georgia and the nation and share opinions and news with Maureen Downey

No objection to testing if it's relevant, informative and aligned with what was taught

The media has been reporting a lot this year on parents opting to pull their kids out of testing.

I am not among the parents who feel there's too much testing in school. (However, I think there are too  many movies.)

I concede that my two high school sophomores take a lot of tests, but most are teacher-created, as is the case nationwide. My twins are in the midst of almost daily testing now because of the Georgia Milestones/End of Course Tests, AP exams and teacher-created finals.

Done right, testing provides information parents need. If testing matches what was taught, it should not be a paralyzing experience for kids.

That said, school districts need to communicate better about the purpose of their varied tests and what the results mean. That's especially true this year as Georgia unveils new standardized exams called the Georgia Milestones in core classes and another set of  state-mandated but district-developed tests called Student Learning Objectives or SLOs in electives and classes without standardized exams. (There are complaints about the inconsistency and relevancy of the SLOs.)

The state should be more transparent about what scores signify. There should be a simple explanation attached to each student's score that informs parents whether their child is performing to the standard expected for their grade and how their child stacked up to peers statewide. And, if the child is performing below the standard, the score report should outline what parents ought to do and what the district is obligated to do.

In an earlier post, we discussed how much easier it was to achieve a proficient level on Georgia's CRCT compared to the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

An example: On last year's fourth grade reading CRCT, 94 percent of students in Georgia met the standard and were deemed proficient. However, only 34 percent of Georgia fourth graders were proficient on the 2013 NAEP, a gap of 60 points, the largest in the country.

I noted two possible reasons: 1. The CRCT was too easy. 2. The CRCT was an OK test, but the state set the proficiency level -- how many items kids had to get right -- too low.

Many folks have sent me emails agreeing the CRCT was too easy, which is why Georgia retired it and adopted the Milestones tests, which purportedly demand more problem-solving and critical thinking.

However, it isn't just the content of the test that matters; it also matters how the state scores the test.

With that, I would like to share a note from our resident testing expert Jerry Eads, who teaches at Georgia Gwinnett College:

Choosing high pass rates on minimum competency tests has gone on in many states for a very long time. After all, they are MINIMUM competency tests. When I ran state testing in Virginia (a long time ago), the most difficult work we had was making questions on the high school graduation test simple enough so that enough kids could get them correct.

Several of Georgia's CRCTs were that "easy," with first time pass rates on some tests well over 90 percent. Unfortunately, no one downtown apparently every knew enough about the intersection of testing and learning to ever consider equalizing the difficulty of the tests across subjects or grades, so that a math test in a grade might have a pass rate of 70 percent, while the reading test in the same grade would have a rate of 90 percent, and the reading test in the very next grade might have a pass rate of 80 percent.

NONE of this had ANYTHING to do with amount of learning or quality of teaching, but only with the egregious lack of state leadership. John Barge did indeed want to change the testing but didn't have the political horsepower; don't know if Richard Woods can make much difference either, but their abilities seem light years beyond their truly (if sadly) comical predecessors.

That said, I much enjoyed when Maureen caught someone saying that Milestones would be "more rigorous" than the CRCT. Really? All one needed to do was ramp up the difficulty of the existing tests. We do hope that the CONTENT of Milestones is improved beyond the haphazard schizophrenia of the old CRCT. If it reflects the (from what I hear positive and extensive) work of the math and language VERY folks downtown, it will be.

None of that addresses the real problem with competency testing, however.

Fifty years of such testing has clearly shown that it is of absolutely no help to kids learning or teachers teaching. The ONLY impact of making these useless tests "more rigorous" is to make sure more lower performing kids drop out, Some of you think that's a good thing. Keep that thought next time you come home to (just for example) a broken window and stolen flat screen. We DO need to figure out how to better help teachers and students get better, but you'd think after 50 years we'd have realized the way we've been using testing isn't it.



Reader Comments ...

About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.